Judaism is a love song. It is a dance both incredibly simple and yet frustratingly complex. The evolution of Judaism in the West has often neglected this concept, adopting rather the theological and philosophical positions of our cultural neighbors and sister faiths. Services are too long. The liturgy is dull. Why this tune? Where can language be inserted? Removed? The song has been placed under the lens of music theory and its beauty reduced to meticulous analysis. The rhythm has been studied so intensely that the steps themselves have been forgotten – those who were once the most graceful of dancers have opted to become editors, composers, and conductors. The metronome continues to click, but the heart no longer beats to its count.
This is a crisis of our time. It would be an oversimplification to blame postmodernism itself for our communal numbness, but the center of life, the focus of existence, somehow became an I rather than a Thou. With this mentality, the community becomes an abstraction – its purpose is to serve rather than to be nourished. What can this community give me? Where do I feel that I belong? The dance has become a solo performance, the Partner pushed into the corner to observe and to only observe.
Sing unto the Lord a new song! A song of Ascents! Yet our song is incapable of ascent when the focus is grounded. The problem is one of attunement, collective attunement. The monumental task of the community in our time is to spark the fire of the dance, to remember the Partner so as the love song can become harmonious once more. It is a monumental task. It calls for an ease to our analysis, to trust the original Composer and to leave the community vulnerable to the melody. The composition is sound, the performers are dismal. But once the song is remembered, the dissonance will abide. When the heart is on fire, the solo performance ends. The loneliness of the I is comforted in the We, and the eternal dance is able to continue as it once was.
As we begin a new year, may we remember the song that dwells within us. Let us come together not as communities of individuals but as a balanced half to the world’s oldest chord. Let us shed the chrysalis of the I and raise our song to the Thou, so that we may once again hear the awe and splendor of our love song and celebrate together.
“Man sollte alle Tage wenigstens ein kleines Lied hören, ein gutes Gedicht lesen, ein treffliches Gemälde sehen und, wenn es möglich zu machen wäre, ein vernünftiges Wort sprechen.”
“Every day, one should hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if at all possible, speak at least one sensible word.”